So Barack Obama jumped into the presidential race with both feet this weekend, in an announcement speech that was probably one the best, and most enthusiastically received, in a long time. A quick reaction to various sections:
The genius of our founders is that they designed a system of government that can be changed. And we should take heart, because we’ve changed this country before. In the face of tyranny, a band of patriots brought an Empire to its knees. In the face of secession, we unified a nation and set the captives free. In the face of Depression, we put people back to work and lifted millions out of poverty. We welcomed immigrants to our shores, we opened railroads to the west, we landed a man on the moon, and we heard a King’s call to let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
His speechwriters are good. One of the laments of campaigns is that a candidate spends so much time talking about the problems that they want to fix, that they sound relentlessly gloomy, an endless litany of complaints about how nothing is as good as it should be. Obama, or his message team, remembered that this is a great country, and patriotism is not naïve.
That’s what Abraham Lincoln understood. He had his doubts. He had his defeats. He had his setbacks. But through his will and his words, he moved a nation and helped free a people. It is because of the millions who rallied to his cause that we are no longer divided, North and South, slave and free. It is because men and women of every race, from every walk of life, continued to march for freedom long after Lincoln was laid to rest, that today we have the chance to face the challenges of this millennium together, as one people — as Americans.
Did I just detect the slightest of brushbacks against multiculturalism?
What’s stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What’s stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.
I’m about halfway there, Senator. I’m getting a little tired of the “smallness of our politics”/partisanship as a bogeyman theme; but I’m with you on the “chronic avoidance of tough decisions” (entitlement reform) and “distracted by the petty and trivial” (plastic turkey!).
For the last six years we’ve been told that our mounting debts don’t matter, we’ve been told that the anxiety Americans feel about rising health care costs and stagnant wages are an illusion, we’ve been told that climate change is a hoax, and that tough talk and an ill-conceived war can replace diplomacy, and strategy, and foresight.
And… he lost me. Okay, Senator, let’s see some quotes. Who in American politics has said, “the anxiety over rising health care costs and stagnant wages are an illusion”? I know some people have argued that wages are growing. But I don’t think I’ve heard anyone on either side of the aisle declare that our anxieties are illusions. And even the most ardent war supporter argues that America needs “ill-conceived wars” (what are well-conceived wars?) or who argues that America doesn’t need diplomacy and strategy. And foresight is easier when you back the status quo. Life, particularly in international relations, is inherently unpredictable.
Die, straw man, die!
And as people have looked away in disillusionment and frustration, we know what’s filled the void. The cynics, and the lobbyists, and the special interests who’ve turned our government into a game only they can afford to play. They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we’re here today to take it back. The time for that politics is over. It’s time to turn the page.
Okay, I’m back with you, Senator. I’m appalled by the antics of Murtha, Bob Menendez, William Jefferson, Allan Mollohan and Robert Byrd’s only-recently-interrupted quest to transfer all federal spending to West Virginia. Oh, wait, that wasn’t what you had in mind?
Skipping ahead a bit…
Let’s recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more support in exchange for more accountability.
This should be interesting. What constitutes “accountability”, Senator? Because we’ve seen plenty of funding and pay hikes over the years, but waiting for the teachers’ unions to embrace accountability is like waiting for Godot.
I’ll skip over the next section and simply refer you to David Frum, who picks apart Obama’s other promises the way Peyton Manning picked apart the Bears’ defense – going after the soft, exposed underbelly.
Obama seems like a really decent guy, and it’s nice to hear a candidate who seems to buy whole hog into some old-fashioned notions, such as the greatness of this country and the nobility of our Founding Fathers. We get the occasional sop to conservative ideas, like “when a child turns to violence, there’s a hole in his heart no government could ever fill,” “more money and programs alone will not get us where we need to go. Each of us, in our own lives, will have to accept responsibility.” And it’s really nice to see a Democratic candidate come along and essentially renounce Howard-Dean-ism, the angry, red-in-the-face politics of “I hate Republicans and everything they stand for.”
But Obama laid out a tall order in this speech, an ambitious agenda to make dramatic improvements in all sorts of areas of American life. And when he did give a dash of policy prescriptions, there’s very little to differentiate the Illinois Senator from any other standard-issue Democrat.
He’s earned a long look from the American people, and he’ll get one. But right now, it remains to be seen if he’ll live up to the Audacity of Hype.